[News] Indigenous Voice debate now reminiscent of controversy before I delivered the national apology

Decision-making would be vastly improved by the Voice as an authoritative representative body to inform Canberra about the on-the-ground reality in local communities. It would be, as the PM says, an “unflinching source of advice and accountability” holding politicians’ and bureaucrats’ feet to the fire to ensure better outcomes for communities and best value for all taxpayers. Canberra’s handful of hard-working Aboriginal MPs cannot represent such diversity, and it’s unfair to expect that from them.

Second, they call for “more detail”. Before the apology, I faced weeks of demands to publish the full wording along with confidential policy advice. There was nothing earth-shattering there. Many just wanted material they could misrepresent for political effect – standard procedure in Tory politics.

Critics now demanding the government detail how the Voice would function ignore the fact that, because of the government’s conservative approach, this is not for the Labor Party to dictate. It is for successive parliaments to design and refine how the Voice makes its recommendations through processes that reach across the partisan divide. And they will be informed by the extensive 269-page report produced under that infamous radical, Scott Morrison. A more prescriptive referendum is exactly the sort of radical change that conservatives should oppose.

Third, they raise fear that the change is unworkable or even dangerous. For example, the week before the apology, Peter Dutton was claiming it could cost taxpayers billions in compensation, despite this claim having been debunked by John Howard’s own attorney-general. This was classic Dutton and designed only to engender anxiety and fear.

Abbott’s dystopic vision of a three-chambered parliament, activist judges overruling parliament and lawyers lining their pockets is similarly fanciful. Albanese could not be clearer: the Voice is “not a third chamber, not a rolling veto, not a blank cheque”. Abbott, like Dutton, is misleading the public for political ends.

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Fourth, they claim it will be “divisive”. The critics told the apology would rip the country apart because non-Indigenous Australians, who take pride in their forebears’ achievements, would not acknowledge what those forebears might have gotten wrong. The apology actually united Australians, rather than dividing them. It was a cathartic opportunity for all of us, whatever our origins. When it was done, most people were left wondering what all the fuss was about.

The arc of history, as it has been described, does indeed bend slowly. But unhappily for Dutton and Abbott it will continue to bend because Australians are fundamentally decent.

Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is co-chair of the National Apology Foundation.

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